Search "native" and "unemployment" in The Globe and Mail’sarchives from 1977 to the present, and you’ll get hundreds of hits. The stories chronicle years of spiralling poverty on reserves, Third World housing and escalating suicide rates. It’s a relentlessly sad, unending tale of despair.
EDITOR’S DESK – GARY SALEWICZ writes in the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business Magazine, September 26, 2008. Click here for original article.
When Konrad Yakabuski travelled to the western shores of Vancouver Island to report on the renewed logging of Clayoquot Sound (yes, that Clayoquot Sound), he found that the 2,500 natives living on its shore, who constitute the five Nuu-chah-nulth tribes, endure many of these abysmal conditions. Yakabuski also found a tiny, native-owned logging company, Iisaak, whose model–less wood, more value–points to a way forward for the forestry sector, and a sliver of hope for the Nuu-chah-nulth ("Woods War II" ).
Yakabuski has been covering the forest industry since 1996. His most recent piece on the subject for the magazine, in December, 2007, examined the miracle of the Finnish forestry industry and the failure of its Canadian counterpart ("It ain’t pretty," globeandmail.com/robmagazine). There remains a dominant mentality in the Canadian forestry business that suggests we just need to ride things out until the next boom, says Yakabuski. "But the next boom isn’t coming, not for high-cost Canadian producers that don’t offer anything an Asian, a Brazilian–or, soon, a Russian–forest company can’t offer for less." Besides, our volume-based forestry practices don’t allow Canadian firms to distinguish their wood products as ecologically superior.
Iisaak may never get the chance to prove itself. Even though the company has eschewed the industrial logging of its predecessors–MacMillan Bloedel and Interfor–and embarked on an ecologically sensitive logging program, the fact of the matter is that it’s still getting its wood from Clayoquot, the most revered forest in the country. This has pitted the Nuu-chah-nulth against their onetime allies, the environmentalists.
The same story has been playing out across the West, as natives gain more control of land and natural resources. A proposal for a partly native-owned pipeline in the Northwest Territories has been opposed by the World Wildlife Fund and the Sierra Club of Canada. Alberta casino executives have complained about tax exemptions enjoyed by native-run gaming houses. When the Tsawwassen First Nation released a blueprint for development that included big-box retail and condominiums on prime agricultural land near Vancouver, local NDP MLA Guy Gentner told reporters, "I think the rush has begun."
While the we-know-better attitude of the groups opposing native business initiatives risks sounding patronizing, the greater risk is that these nascent ventures will receive none of the help they need to succeed or thrive. And when they fail, we in the media will go back to writing more stories about catastrophes on the reserves.